On Jan. 12, the Orange County Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Meet Your New Elected Officials” event at Orange County Community College (SUNY) in Middletown, New York featuring a panel composed of several recently elected or re-elected NYS government officials.
The event was sponsored by the Hudson Valley Credit Union, a Diamond Partner with the Orange County Chamber of Commerce.
In attendance were New York state senators James Skoufis, and Robert Rolison, as well as State Assembly members Karl Brabenec, Brian Maher, Christopher Eachus, Jonathan Jacobson, and Aileen Gunther, each of whom took time to address the audience and communicate their priorities as they move into a new or first term.
The conversation was bipartisan with many of the officials expressing a desire for cooperation between elected officials, on both sides of the aisle, to meet the needs of New Yorkers.
Crime, an issue across the nation
Sen. Skoufis, who represents the 42nd District in the New York State Senate, said his priorities going into his new term are “the nuts and bolts of what government should be doing,” with a focus on public safety. “Public safety; nothing else matters if people don’t feel safe,” he said.
He argued that surging crime rates are not just a state issue but a national one, further arguing that New York State’s bail laws are not to blame for the spike in criminal activity in New York communities.
“By the way, 49 states have not touched their bail laws. New York did, but crime is up in 49 other states too,” he said.
He admitted that “we should take a look at tightening up our bail laws and providing more resources for police and addressing the root causes of crime” adding that communities can do a better job of getting kids off the streets and giving them something productive to do and ensuring they have “strong households, families, schools [and] support systems.”
He referred to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis as a “big bucket of issues” saying that the state has “more work to do” regarding taxation and that healthcare and utility costs need to be part of the conversation. Striking a bipartisan note he ended his comments saying, “I look forward to working with all my great colleagues up here over the next number of months.”
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Republican Senator Robert Rolison, who represents District 39 and who won his election in November by a wide margin, said his priority moving forward is regaining trust in government from his constituents. “The things that I heard on the campaign trail, universally throughout the 39th District, which stretches across the three counties, was trust in government. People were frustrated,” he said.
He said people expressed a lack of trust in many branches of government including both state and federal governments and that affordability and public safety were the top concerns among his constituents. “That is what I heard throughout the campaign and that is what I am hearing now as an elected member of the NYS Senate,” he said.
Also striking a bipartisan tone, he said he was willing to work with anyone who “wants to get things done,” adding that he didn’t care what side of the aisle one is on or even if they are a registered voter. “I will work with anyone who wants to work to get things done and change the way things are,” he said.
‘Property taxes are crushing residents and small businesses’
Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, who represents District 98, and who also marked his ninth year at the forum, said his priority is tax reform.
“Property taxes are crushing residents and small businesses; have been for decades,” he said, adding that the state needs to take action to reform the system.
Also striking a bipartisan tone, Brabenec said that “we have a lot of talent, a lot of great ideas from both sides of the aisle” that could address the issue.
He argued that first responders, including law enforcement, need more support while also acknowledging that the agricultural community as well as veterans need attention as well.
He said he was proud of his track record of helping “thousands of constituents navigate through the red tape of Albany” and that he would continue to do so.
Self-sufficiency and addressing ‘youth flight’
Republican Assemblyman Brian Maher, who represents District 101 in the NYS Assembly said he got into politics because “I love people. I have a passion for people,” and that a focus on self sufficiency is a key to success.
“As a conservative leaning individual what I believe in is self-sufficiency,” he said, adding that he wants to make sure that “we help people help themselves so that we can have a competitive society” and that he wants to compete, not just with other states, but with other communities around the globe.
He said to achieve this “we have to be honest with ourselves” and think creatively.
Also top of mind for the Assemblyman is what he called “youth flight.”
“We want our kids and our grand-kids and our nieces and nephews to stay here and not flee. We need to do more than just talk about making things more affordable and more safer because a lot of that is out of our control and we need to do things where we can make that meaningful difference … and create partnerships, opportunities and career paths for them and support them,” he said adding that, “and to do that we need to support the businesses.”
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Referring to himself as an “atypical elected official” Assemblyman Chirstopher Eachus who represents District 99 in the NYS Assembly and who owns and runs businesses with his wife in the community said that he can tell from experience that “we’re not through with COVID yet.”
“We started these businesses just about four years ago and they are absolutely being crushed and were crushed by COVID and I think that we need to keep that in mind for all of the businesses throughout Orange County,” he argued adding that, “It’s very, very important that we do things for businesses.”
He said to support the populace the state needs to focus on more “workforce” housing and continued the theme of bipartisanship saying, “I am very glad to be working with everybody here. I’ve spoken with everybody here, they are a wonderful group. We are going to be a wonderful group, supporting Orange County throughout our terms.”
He concluded his comments telling the audience, “One of the things you should walk out of here with … is that every vote counts and please stress that to yourself and to everybody else that you know. Every vote counts, and, as my friend Jonathan Jacobs would say, ‘elections matter.’ So, please keep those in mind.”
Hard line on gun violence
Democrat Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, who represents District 104 in the NYS Assembly, took a hard line on gun violence. “We have to continue what’s been started concerning illegal gun trafficking … ghost guns …. And work to get them off the streets,” he said, adding that gun violence hurts economic development.
Another priority for the Assemblyman is workforce development. “You can’t have a bridge to nowhere and you can’t have workforce development that goes nowhere,” he said, arguing that post secondary institutions need to provide education and skills training for “jobs that exist” and that he has been working with a community college and trades to that effect.
Last to speak was Democrat Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who represents District 100 in the NYS Assembly. She said the key to successful community development is “bringing your taxpayer money back to do capital jobs” highlighting the work she has accomplished with Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano. “I’ve had a tremendous working relationship with Joseph DeStefano, and I plan to continue to do that,” she said.
She said she has personally been involved in passing over 100 bills and that she is thrilled with New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s pledge to invest $1 billion in mental health support in the state. “I negotiated with our Governor Hochul. We now have $1 billion dollars in mental health to be able to share with our communities because right now we’re in a pandemic state when it comes to mental health,” she argued ending her comments saying, “I love what I do. I love being a nurse. I love taking care of people and I will continue to serve my community as best I can.”